When Holden opened his eyes, the only light in the room was the orange glow of the sodium street lamps sifting between the wooden blinds from the grid of city streets, forty-four stories below, and the pale blue light of his alarm clock. The colors combined to give his stark white walls a purplish tint. The clock read 10:32.
Shit. He had overslept.
The sun had set hours before, which meant he’d wasted good, prime hunting time. If he didn’t hurry, all he’d be left with would be drunks, junkies or the homeless. None of which appealed to him. Most of them would probably taste sour and would offer very little in terms of nutritional value, their blood tainted with so many chemicals.
Before he slid out from beneath his satin sheets, he quickly scanned his local armada of Ismeros for any sign of trouble throughout the city. He had about fifty or so Ismeros of his own posted around Chicago. Various members of the High Council probably had another sixty or seventy. They lived their normal, day-to-day lives, yet kept a close watch for him during the day while he slept. He offered them protection from the terrors that the world provided, while they provided him with information and food.
Truth be told, had anything serious happened that day, the psychic connection he held with his Ismeros would have woken him from even the deepest sleep. It was part of a vampire’s long-evolved self-preservation mechanism, an army to protect him while he was most vulnerable, while he slept. While the need for an army of Ismeros had long since faded, the tradition of keeping them had not. The simple fact that he’d overslept was a sign that all was peaceful in the city. At any rate, it was still something he did every evening when he awoke, just to be sure.
It had been decades since anything tempestuous had happened in his domain. The last Strigoi to invade Chicago had been John Wayne Gacy. His reign of terror had lasted far too long. It had taken the Council years to catch up with and dispose of the rogue vampire. They would have caught up with him much sooner had human law enforcement not gotten in their way. The thought of the long-executed Strigoi still made Holden rage inside.
That bastard had killed one of Holden’s favorite Ismeros, Lukas, back in the 1970s. That boy had fucked like a champ and tasted like heaven, dipped in amazing and served with a side of remarkable. It still made Holden sad to think about. After all, it was because of Holden that boy had learned to trust vampires, which ultimately lead him to his untimely death. Holden still felt partially to blame and like a failure for not being able to save him.
“Should I just order takeout? Or should I go pick something up?” Holden said out loud to his empty room as he climbed from the warmth of his bed, scanning a mental list of Ismeros again, this time searching for any willing blood donors, who lived happened to live nearby, that might pique his interest. It was Monday. Which meant the bars and clubs would be relatively quiet in the area, yet none of his Ismeros were catching his attention.
He always did what he could to avoid the any of the Council’s Ismeros, never fully trusting them. Their loyalty lay with the Council, not with him. So, he always thought of them as spies despite working for the same team. “I’ll pick something up,” he decided out loud to an empty room.
He moved to the window, pulling up the generic blinds, which released a cloud of dust and looked out the city grid below. The orange shimmer flooded the room, illuminating his naked body in the window. He really loved this new apartment; it was too bad he wouldn’t be able to stay long. The Council forced him to move frequently, more so because they thought it was best, not because he wanted to. It was an attempt to not to draw any unwanted attention from a nosey human. Human neighbors tended to notice when the twenty-something next door always remained a twenty-something.
Holden had learned that lesson quickly in the years following the Great Chicago Fire. A neighbor had accused him of being a witch, which made for an exciting few weeks. In a stroke of luck, she’d ended up dying of cholera a short while later, and the attention quickly dwindled.
That age had been a bit more superstitious than today’s society, but the Council insisted he not take any chances, so every few years he moved to a different part of the city. He had found this apartment a few months prior. Its location on a penthouse floor of a high rise on Lake Shore Drive had definite perks. Lincoln Park, the lakefront playground that stretched from downtown to the far north side, was directly across the boulevard-turned-freeway, and it offered plenty of dark areas for hunting, chock full of potential meals. Joggers, bikers, various riff-raff, late-night walkers… to a Vampire, it was like an international buffet. Each and every one of them ripe for the picking, with the park affording all the necessary discretion to do so. It was quite dark; all the trees muted the copper glow from the city streets on one side and on the other, a hundred mile stretch of the black, open waters of Lake Michigan. He almost always hunted his breakfast here, granted, it was usually a few hours earlier.
Another option was to try his luck in the local bars and nightclubs that the neighboring Boystown and Wrigleyville had to offer. Being a Monday the only people at the bars and clubs around 4 am, his dinner hour, would be the hardcore drunks. And that much alcohol neither helped with how they tasted nor with how well they’d perform in the bedroom, both of which were equally important to a vampire. Tonight, he decided, he would exercise his third option, he would find an Ismeros to bring over for dinner, but breakfast he was going to be an excellent old-fashioned hunt.
His naked form crossed the room into the ensuite bathroom, and he turned on the shower. Steam quickly fogged up the enclosure, which was entirely made out of frameless-glass. He climbed into the black marble interior and let the hot water spray over his skin and muscles washing away any trace of his early morning romp with last night’s dinner.
The hot water soothed as it poured over his body. He massaged both of his shoulders with his hands. All of his muscles ached and burned. They cried out to be fed, burning for fuel. Every muscle fiber in his body was silently screaming out for food, having long burned off the meal from his tryst the night prior. Reminding him that it had been almost eighteen hours since he’d eaten. Jacob? Jake? John? Joe? He couldn’t remember. Johann? He had tasted Swedish, or maybe Finnish; it was hard to tell here in the New World. Everyone was a little bit of everything these days. Whatever he was, it was nothing spectacular, neither in taste nor his ability to perform in the bedroom. The boy had wound up being rather prudish and shy in bed, which was what Holden had expected from a boy who agreed to come home with him less than thirty minutes after they’d met.
Sundays had historically been very easy. The boys of East Lakeview were always eager for one last weekend rendezvous before they had to go back to the monotony of the workweek. Most them begging for his phone number before he sent them on their way, always remembering the incredible fuck, never remembering him feeding on them. He was still happy to oblige. A vampire was always on the lookout for new Ismeros, sex, and food available at his every beck and call, but it was rare that they ever actually called. Sure, he’d sometimes get a text message, but in truth, the sleek iPhone that he’d bought at the insistence of his live-in Ismeros, Marie, rarely left where it was neatly docked on his desk in the living room. He had no real use for the thing, anyone he truly cared for, he was directly linked to, with a natural, psychic link. By the time he would see the text message, the boys usually had moved on to the next best thing, and that suited this vampire just fine.
He emerged from the shower, wrapping his toned vampire body in only a plain white towel. The terrycloth fabric hung low from his waist, showing off his well-defined abdominal muscles and giving off just the slightest hint of well-groomed hair that it hid beneath its rough surface, as he walked into the living room. Marie was there, folding the solid black, Egyptian cotton sheets from his feeding room. He kept a second room strictly for feeding and fucking, having long ago been taught that you don’t bring your food into the bed that you sleep in. Things, of course, could always end up getting a little bit messy, with the inevitable exchange of body fluids.
“You slept late tonight,” she said, giving him a sharp look of concern, “Are you feeling okay?”
“I wish you’d woken me,’ he smiled. “But, yeah, I feel fine,” he said with a shrug of confidence. He was a vampire, and vampires never got sick. “Have you ever known me, or any vampire for that matter, to feel sick? I’m not sure, maybe my dinner date wore me out last night,” He smiled, remembering how attractive the boy had been. His name had definitely been Johann. “Speaking of, did you see him out?” Holden’s voice had long ago become very Americanized, losing almost all traces of its European roots.
“He left shortly after he awoke this morning,” she said, “looking just as confused as the rest of them. I’m not sure how you do it…” She chuckled.
“Talent,” he said coyly, a smirk spreading across his porcelain skin. “I learned from the best.” He, of course, was referring to his Sire, Damek. The elder vampire was nearly a thousand years old and had personally groomed Holden to be in the position that he was, Watcher for the High Council of Vampires.
“I find it hard to believe that you aren’t the best,” she flirted, “I seem to remember you being the best.” Her New Orleans accent was still discernable after all these years and always served her well in the art of flattery.
They, of course, had a very long history, at least in human terms, dating back to the late 1960s. He’d found her, homeless on the streets, ravaged by a rogue vampire, who had briefly passed through town. Having run away from an abusive home in Louisiana, she had nowhere to go, so he’d taken her in, raised her first as a foster child, then as a lover, but now she’d out-aged him, and things had come full circle. She loved him, Holden could tell, but not as a lover as she had in her youth, but more maternally. He felt a pang of remorse deep inside his heart. Holden had stolen her youth, taken her life and any hope she had ever had for a family. Next, he would steal her golden years. He shook his head to clear the thought away.
“I think I’m going to the get dressed and head to the park for some breakfast,” he said. “No strange late-night visitors tonight, I promise.”
“Good, then maybe tomorrow I will be able to sleep in,” she said with a nod and a joking smile, returning to the pile of linens at her feet. “Take your phone, please.”
He, of course, heard her request, it was the same request she gave him every night but like most things’ humans said to him, he didn’t give it a whole lot of thought. He dropped his towel into the empty laundry basket next to her feet, turned and his naked form walked back towards his room to get dressed.
Jay Barrett lives in Chicago with his husband. A writer in the evening, he’s a flight attendant by day and an avid runner. Marked is his first novel.